Thursday, September 21, 2017

"Japanning" - How the Mountain Men made their tin ware rust-resistant!

In the 19th century, Mountain Men used tin ware for many purposes. Tinware bowls, plates, and storage boxes were inexpensive and commonly used. However, the brightly finished metal could rust if left untreated. So they adopted a method called Japanning. True Japanning is a process that dates to the 1600's in which lacquer, usually black, was layered on metal objects and each layer heat baked, thus creating a protective rust-proof coating, kind of like today's rust resistant enamels like RUSTOLEUM.

The Mountain Men didn't have access to lacquers, but they could fire darken the tin, giving it a protective patina. The brightly polished tin ware was placed into campfire flames and soon darkened. Sometimes it developed different iridescent hues of blue and gold, making for an attractive finish. The tin ware was wiped down with a grease and was fairly impervious to rust. Mountain Men didn't have a lot of money, so making gear last was crucial.  I would bet Horace Kephart and Nessmuk probably had used this technique or knew of it.

I often fire blue or Japan tin items, usually little storage tins I used for storing fatwood, char cloth, or a flint & steel kit. I especially like empty percussion cap tins and mini-altoids tins. These are great for making primitive/antiqued matchsafe's and for storing cotton impregnated with Vaseline for fire starter.  I'm going to post up some pics below and walk you through the process for creating your own antiqued ["Japanned"] tin goodies for camp and trail.

The first step is to acquire a tin object you wish to Japan. For this practice I will use this empty Saddle soap tin. This would be a great tin for a small fire making kit or to hold tools for a muzzleloading rifle:

The next step is to make a hot fire. I am using an old coffee can as a hobo stove and building up a hot fire:

The pieces of the tin are placed into the fire. This will burn off the paint and fire-color the bare metal:

After the paint has burned off, remove the pieces and cover with the hot coals until cooled:

Remove the pieces from the coals:

Using a coarse piece of cloth, scrub the ashes off of the tin. Use a stick to get into corners or for spots with hard ash caked on:

Finally, use lard, or grease and wipe down the tin. Wipe off the excess. You will now have a nicely antiqued, attractive tin to include in your trail kit or possible's bag:

 Happy Hiking!

[Bushcraft Woods Devil]

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